Alec Clegg Studio, Stage@Leeds.
Saturday 1st December 2012.
This Man to His Wife; Leeds University Theatre Group (TG)
Written and directed by Joe Kerridge, Produced by Isla Jackson-Ritchie and Yeri Al-Jaf.
Reviewed by Holly Boyden- first year English Literature and Theatre student.
As December has crept up on us, so has the final TG production of 2012. This Man to His Wife is a psychologically vexing piece of new writing from Joe Kerridge, and as usual, was something I auditioned for - you may have noticed a pattern emerging.
When reading a scene from This Man to His Wife, I found it profoundly difficult and the writing deliberately evasive. However, this evening’s performance cracked open my dense little skull and allowed the power of what Kerridge has created to trickle in. This Man to His Wife is not your bog standard play; it is a highly stylistic and disturbing performance piece that is brought to some form of wretched life by a group of very perceptive actors and theatre makers.
The space chosen was intimate and modern with no conventional seating arrangement. We, as the audience were encouraged to move around the outside space as and when we pleased, in order to gain new perspectives on the action. This was an inspired choice and I also think it served to show the world moving around the static and decomposing minds of the characters, something which made them seem more like participants in an experiment than performers. The production was by no means an immediate success, it took a while to thaw, for the actors to sink into their disconcerting roles and for the audience to realise that this would not be a conventional piece of kitchen sink drama. The gigantic pauses, the awkwardness and the stiltedness were delightfully agitating and made you want to scream and cry and vomit simultaneously because of the headache of taciturnity created. The play is an enigma; it seems to escape explicit meaning and definition, but I would say it has a postmodern air of the apocalyptic, a sentiment which it exudes without any whiff of pretentiousness. The elusiveness pulses through every vein of the play; the director and writer himself confesses that ‘I can tell you what happens...but after that I don’t know that much. It is up for grabs.’ This is what makes This Man to His Wife so astonishing, and I am fascinated as to how the cast made the volatile sense that they did of it without having seen it performed beforehand.
There is a Waiting for Godot-esque helplessness about the play, the characters are in a depressing limbo that they do not seem to be able to, or really want to escape from. Larry and Pam are in what appears to be a dysfunctional and dried up marriage that is being dragged into the realm of no return by Larry’s writer’s block and Pam’s indifference, and the presence of David, a friend or relation of some kind is just exacerbating the deathly tension. The rendering of each character was key, as the magic of the play lay in the fact that they did not relate to one another, they could not break through the fog of discontent that surrounds them. David, played by Dan Whitehouse, was phenomenal to the extent that you truly did not feel comfortable in looking at his face for too long. He emanated a hawkish cruelty and laconic self conviction in his demeanour that you only really see in the truly psychotic, or perhaps the folk who strike up conversation with you on the last bus home. Pam, played by Amy O’Loughlin was fantastically hollow and inexpressive with twitches of repression and psychosis coming through in tiny movements of her eyes and body. She really conveyed the disenchantment of a woman whose life is over before it has begun, a person with nothing to live for who either doesn’t realise this awful fact, or no longer cares. I liked the fact that accent was not really played with at all in the production, and although there are allusions to locations in the South East of England, the play could have been set anywhere, and this anonymity exacerbated the dreariness of the situation, as it could exist everywhere, or indeed, nowhere at all.
The ending is delicious in its dissatisfaction; Larry does not ‘have a breakthrough’ with his work, Pam appears to have descended into prostitution to amuse herself and David simply disappears wordlessly and stealthily, like a phantom. The whole production reminded me of the cryptic sixth episode of Skins Series Two, way back in 2008, where Tony (theoretically) goes on a university open day and we are never quite sure if the convoluted series of events that take place are real, or a figment of Tony’s disturbed identity and subconscious. A character that really hit this feeling home for me was Freya Costello’s portrayal of Jill; her frightening detachment and over enunciation was uncannily like the unhinged and possibly imaginary postgraduate student Polly. As someone on an internet forum has said of the Skins’ episode; ‘it’s all a bit like Fight Club.’
After an interval-less evening of feeling very unsettled, and equally very impressed, I really hope that the team take the production further, such as to the National Student Drama Festival, because I think it shows innovation and skill that breaks the thickening crust on student produced drama. This Man to the rest of the world could be deliriously good stuff Kerridge; do it.